Woodbury resident Jason Smith always knew he wanted to have an investment close to town. What didn't he know? His investment would be rather cheesy.
In September, Smith opened Minnesota’s first I Heart Mac & Cheese franchise, a fast-casual restaurant specializing in made-to-order macaroni and cheese bowls and grilled cheese sandwiches right in Woodbury. “You walk in and you pick what you want, like noodles, broccoli and even vegan bowls,” Smith says. “There [are] also meats and veggies [and] other options, like sandwiches, layered with different meats and so on.”
Smith, who has a background in finance, says he has been searching for an investment for years and found I Heart Mac & Cheese on Facebook. “The closest store was in Indiana, and I visited it right away,” he says. Noting the real estate challenge, he says that it took over a year to secure the building for the restaurant.
Ranging from the dish that started it all—Classic Mac and Cheese—to a build-your-own bowl, there’s a variety of dishes to choose from, including an entire vegan menu. “A lot of restaurants offer a vegan menu, and you’re kind of backed into a corner because you don’t know if it’s fresh. Here, the cheese sauce is specifically a different product that is vegan, and we have vegan protein with Beyond Meat sausages,” Smith says. “[Vegans] get the best mac and cheese if they want it, or they can put together a vegan bowl.”
With such a large menu, it’s hard to pick a favorite. Smith’s go-to option? “I would say the Lobster and White Truffle Mac and Cheese, the Signature Pepperoni Mac Bites or the Grilled Sandwich with Mac and Cheese and Short Rib/Roast Beef,” he says, noting the Best of Both Worlds sandwich includes baked mac and cheese with slow-cooked short rib, white cheddar cheese, American cheese and barbecue sauce. “The options are really well thought out … There is an actual fresh menu there and a lot of different options.”
Smith says opening the franchise in Woodbury was a no-brainer, since he’s local to the community, and it has everything he could ask for. “... Woodbury is one of the best locations in terms of demographics, size and because there’s not an overabundance of places to eat,” he says.
“Outside of the comfort food experience, our aim is really just to provide a great customer experience in a great atmosphere,” Smith says. “But we really think the food will speak for itself.”
There’s an abundance of fresh options at I Heart Mac & Cheese. Here are three of them that look too gouda to be true.
Chicken Parmesan Mac and Cheese: Choice of pasta, broccoli, cauliflower or quinoa base; chicken; cheese sauce; marinara; Parmesan cheese; mozzarella cheese; and pesto
Vegan Delight Mac and Cheese: Choice of pasta, broccoli, cauliflower or quinoa base; Beyond Sausage; vegan cheese sauce; broccoli; mushrooms; roasted red peppers; tomatoes; and scallions
Cuban Grilled Cheese: Sourdough bread; mojo pulled pork; ham; Swiss cheese; and dill pickles